What’s your differentiator? How do you stand out among a crowded field of competitors? Ask the top three and bottom three salespeople in your organization, and you will have a clear understanding of why their performance metrics are so different and what you can do to help the underperformers succeed.
Top sales professionals recognize that for them to succeed, they need to win their customer’s trust, and to win their trust, they must build a portfolio of successful business contributions with their clients. They do this by asking questions and probing deeply throughout the organization to identify their customer’s needs. They invest time to truly understand their customer’s business, the challenges they face within the organization and on the open market. Star performers work hard to resolve their customer’s problems. They do not think or act transactionally, i.e., living for today’s order. Rather, they view each interaction with their customer as a brick they are placing on a relationship’s foundation that will become indestructible.
On the other hand, under-performing salespeople are prone to think transactionally, primarily measuring their success on securing a purchase order. They try to build a foundation with things, such as marketing giveaways like hats, shirts and pens, rather than meaningful contributions.
Have a discussion with a top performer about why they are not meeting budget with a particular customer, and they will give you a list of tangible action items that they have already executed along with their proposed follow-up. They will also provide incredibly accurate details on the challenges that their customer may be facing with manufacturing issues or other internal struggles. By the end of the conversation, you will know exactly why the numbers are falling short and the timeline for when they should turn around.
Have the same conversation with an under-performer, and you will likely hear that the customer in question is “slow,” that your competitor is “giving their products away with low prices,” and that the quality of hats, shirts and pens that your company gives out to customers are inferior. By the end of the conversation, you will be left with a vague idea of what’s happening with the customer and the salesperson’s strategy to turn things around.
At this point, you might conclude that the underperformers simply don’t “get it,” which may be true. You might also conclude that they don’t work as hard, or ‘want it’ as badly as their more successful peers, which is another strong possibility. But, what if? What if the underperforming salesperson has never been taught a better way?
It’s not uncommon for an underperformer to go unnoticed by his or her manager because the manager knows that finding topnotch talent is time-consuming and does not guarantee that the new hire will actually be better than their predecessor. Managers are pulled into many directions, from their direct reports to their own manager, demanding customers and countless department heads that their team interacts with daily. In many cases, it is easier, albeit frustrating, to live with an underperformer. Which is why knowing and understanding what motivates and drives individuals on your team is an important first step of a two-step process towards successfully managing them.
There are several methods a manager can use to find out what drives an individual on their team. Among the more effective ways is to make sales calls with them, making sure that you visit a balance of customers which includes long-term loyal customers and those with lower-than-average revenue performance. Pay attention to their verbal and non-verbal communications with the good and not-so-good customers, and then give them feedback on your observations.
Another path to learning what drives an individual is to talk one-on-one with them. Ask them open ended questions that allow them to talk about what they think are their strengths and weaknesses. Early in my career, a sales manager asked me which scenario I would prefer: one ninety-thousand-dollar order, or three hundred orders adding up to ninety thousand dollars. Looking back, I have no doubt that by asking me that question, my manager was trying to determine what motivated and drove me in my work.
Group chat is another method of identifying your team’s driving motivators. Spend time in your sales meeting discussing and dissecting orders that exceed company standards and those that fall short. Let the team talk about why an order is good or bad and the thought processes they might use to navigate through similar transactions. It’s important that these discussions are positive and analytical, not personal indictments.
Once you understand the individuals on your team and can identify where their motivations diverge from the organization’s, you are ready for step two: coaching. By using what you have learned through step one, you can begin personalized coaching of your team so that they can be better aligned with company expectations.
Coaching salespeople as individuals and as a team is a formula toward building an organizational dynasty. To use sports as a metaphor, it’s accurate to say that wins are the ultimate measure of success, since the team with the most wins is crowned champion of their league. In sales, the person who produces the most sales revenue for their company is the “champion” of his or her organization. So, we could say that when a salesperson secures an order, it’s the equivalent to winning a game. Still, it takes many orders to be a champion. To be a champion at anything is the ultimate achievement, and to win multiple championships over a prolonged period earns you the title of dynasty.
Great things happen when you build a sales dynasty. In addition to organizational and individual income growth, opportunities for promotion and expansion of roles for the manager, and more importantly the manager’s team, are likely. Members of a dynasty work more confidently, knowing that they have the support of their manager and the organization. They look for new customers and markets to sell their products, fueled by a determination to stay on top of their game.
Two of the more recent sports dynasties are the New England Patriots and the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team. What did they have that propelled them to unprecedented success in their sports? One thing is for sure, these teams recruited top notch players who enjoyed superior coaching. These teams thrived over and over again thanks to a firm commitment to build a program with talented athletes, who understood and worked from the same playbook. These dynasties were composed of players who diligently practiced and studied game strategies, and as a result, each member of the team was capable of making a game-changing play while they were on the field. Not surprisingly, no matter which sports dynasty you choose to examine, you will invariably find a quote from one of their competitors that describes them as “different” from all the other teams.
By teaching and coaching your team as individuals and as a group, you can help them to find what their differentiator is and build a sales dynasty that endures. Just like Tony Dungy once said,“Once a player joins our team, our priority is to teach him, not worry about the player we didn’t select.”
Mark Serafino spent more than three decades working in wholesale distribution. After retiring, he formed Strictly Speaking LLC. coaching and mentoring individuals and groups in personal communications and leadership and management skills. [email protected]